"I believe that mankind is hopelessly depraved and incapable of doing anything good on its own. It is this depravity that separates us from God. Our depravity judges us guilty before God, and there is nothing we can do to earn God's favor."
It seems a bit strong to me. Sure, from time to time I've dwelt on the idea that we're all born into sin, it's just that I've never spent a ton of time thinking about mankind's fallen nature. It's just always been a belief that I accept (and not a particularly difficult one to accept at that).
But this belief statement is almost offensively strong to me. It starts with a reasonable premise (people are born into sin and need Grace to recover from that) but then jumps to an unreasonable one (without Grace we are depraved). After all, God created us in His image and endowed us with His greatest gifts. Surely there must be some redeeming qualities in human nature, right? To say that we are "hopelessly depraved and incapable of doing anything good" is an indictment not of humanity alone, but also of humanity's creator.
I guess the question becomes whether there is a middle ground. Can we acknowledge our sinful nature and need for grace while simultaneously embracing human nature and seeing good qualities within us? I think the answer is - and has to be - yes. We are not perfect. That much is true. But it does not follow that we are therefore perfectly opposite of perfection. In our natural state we lack Grace, but that does not mean we are depraved. It is not an on/off switch, either we are sinful or we are saved.
And I'd take it a step further; I would say that even those who are without Grace can live as God would want. That in our human nature God has given us tools towards that life. The person without Grace isn't going to get it perfect, but then again, neither is the person who lives in Grace. But lack of perfection does not mean depravity. God takes joy in all of our lives; He gives us our lives as an amazing gift and calls us to live them to the fullest.
Last week's Gospel really struck me, and it's been with me all week. One verse really sums it all up. Mark 9:40 "For whoever is not against us is for us."
Think about that for a second, and how it turns the ol' "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality on its head. If you aren't against God, then you're for God. So long as you're living your life in a way that isn't against God, then you're as good as living in a way that is for God. And that's the red text.
To tie it all back around, it is a "if you're not with me you're against me" mentality that says lack of Grace is the same as depravity. It views an absence of Grace as a rejection of God. But Christ says otherwise, essentially: "so long as there isn't a rejection of God, then there is Grace."
We aren't perfect. We're born into sin. We need Grace to get us to Heaven and help us live our lives to the fullest. But that doesn't mean we're depraved. That doesn't mean we can't do good without embracing Christ. Because we're never alone. God has already given us our lives, and that gift is such an amazing act of Grace in itself. God wants us to have this gift regardless of how we use it. Throw in natural law and our ability to know right and wrong, and well... I'd say we're already about half way there. Not perfect, but not depraved. Just somewhere in between.
What you gonna spend your free life on?